Dutch-Chinese media not free of state censorship

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This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The riots in Xinjiang or the Dalai Lama: topics that have been subject to severe censorship in the Chinese media. In the Netherlands, it’s also difficult for Chinese-language media to handle such "sensitive" stories.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide looked at the way four Chinese-language media outlets reported events over the past year. It turns out that certain subjects are often covered from one side only, or sometimes avoided altogether.

The tri-weekly Asian News depends on advertising income. The readers of the paper are mainly Chinese restaurant owners and their staff, many of whom have lived in the Netherlands for many years. But that doesn’t change the fact that the paper's news coverage over the past year has certainly been coloured.
Unwritten rules
For news from China Asian News uses material from a newspaper in Shanghai and from news agency Xinhua. All these reports go through the unwritten rules of Chinese censorship.
But the publication's own news also doesn’t differ much from what the Chinese government dictates. For instance, Asian News published one-sided reports on the Dalai Lama's visit to the Netherlands. There wasn’t a single quote from him or his supporters, only from opponents of the visit, both Dutch and Chinese. And the same newspaper avoids mentioning Falun Gong, a religious organisation that's forbidden in China.
Nevertheless, Editor-in-Chief Sylvia Gao insists there’s no censorship. “What appears in our newspaper is certainly not censored by the Chinese government. It’s chiefly the opinion of the Chinese community here in the Netherlands, and also of our editorial team, which decides what appears in the paper.”
No opinion
Hong Tong Wu, Editor-in-Chief of Chinese Radio and TV (CRTV) tries as much as possible to avoid expressing opinions in his programmes. CRTV broadcasts in Dutch, Cantonese and Mandarin, and tries to reach all the Chinese living in the Netherlands, from different generations and backgrounds.
What’s striking is that, in the past year, politically-tinted themes have received scant attention. That was a conscious choice, says Hong Tong Wu.
“We’re trying to build bridges. We want the Dutch to understand more about China, and the Chinese who live here, but also in China itself, to understand more about Europe. Our choice of subjects reflects that. If we have something about Tibet, then we concentrate on what’s interesting about Tibetan culture.”

According to the editor-in-chief, it’s not journalistically interesting to ask people to give their opinions about political developments, whether pro- or anti-China. Knowledge about each other is more important. But censorship has nothing to do with it, according to Hong Tong Wu.
Radio Netherlands website
The Chinese-language website of Radio Netherlands Worldwide doesn’t avoid discussions on sensitive subjects. Editor-in-Chief Bei Wang is of the opinion that objectivity will only be achieved by placing different opinions alongside each other.
“We are trying to be neutral and objective. Therefore it’s necessary that we bring various opinions from different sides - those of China, Tibet or Xinjiang, but also the rest of the world. The final verdict lies with the readers. Sometimes we receive criticisms that we are not sharp enough, but we continue to cover these kinds of sensitive events. We ourselves are neither for or against a particular opinion”.

Only the makers of the popular website GogoDutch admit to censorship. Gogodutch.nl is a social site, where people can contact each other and share experiences. They were regularly blocked, until they registered in China. But they must abide by Chinese laws, says founder Xindan:
“When people subscribe to us we inform them that there are some things that can’t be discussed, otherwise we will be blocked. There are always people occupied with a particular issue, such as Falun Gong. But it’s not many. Most people are occupied with life in general.”

No political interest
According to Xindan from GogoDutch, most Chinese in the Netherlands don’t find the censorship rules to be a problem because they’re not interested in politics.
Openly censored or not, all Chinese-language media in the Netherlands must deal carefully with politically-sensitive subjects. In the Netherlands, where criticism and opinion-forming are normal, this is sometimes difficult to explain, says Hong Tong Wu of CRTV:
“You can never get it right. If you’re too critical you lose the Chinese public – the target group you’re aiming at. And if you’re not critical, then you cut off the Dutch listeners. And worse, we receive swipes from the Dutch media that we’re behaving like typical Chinese.”

The editors of the China Times, the only newspaper in the Netherlands that has support from the Chinese Embassy, were not available for comment.
Researcher: Wei Lu